I Am a Filipino. I Am Football.

azkal-kick-fifa

The future! Filipino youngsters enjoying the King of Sports

By W.G.T. Catud

Being someone who is classified as a “21st Century Educator”, it is not uncommon for students to approach, and befriend their teachers, with the main objective of gaining confidence of finding a brother or sister in us along the way. That includes knowing the things that we like to do when the clock strikes “dismissal time”, and we return to being normal people with normal things to do with our remaining time.

Sometime during my first year of teaching, some of my students approached me and asked questions about what I liked to do when I’m not donning my persona of “Sir Will”. The hardest questions I encountered were related to sports.

“Sir, who’s your favorite basketball player?”

“Sir, which do you prefer, Lakers, or Golden State Warriors?”

“Sir, who do you prefer, Kobe [Bryant], or Lebron [James]?”

When these questions were presented, I also presented myself in a dilemma: should I give a decent answer just to satisfy the ears of my students, or should I tell the truth about not knowing any of the things they just blurted out of their mouths?

I really did not grow up on a basketball-oriented environment. To tell the truth, I forced myself not to grow on a basketball-oriented environment. That’s because I really do not want myself to fit into what society wants, what society has right now, and what society dictates you to do (just because others are doing it). I won’t blame the people around me if they throw first impressions of me as eccentric, unusual, or let’s face it, a weirdo.

I grew up worshipping another kind of ball: that milky-white leather ball sprinkled with black pentagonal patches stitched together, and kicked around lush green fields for 90 minutes.

I am a proud fan of football.

I can vividly remember that July afternoon of 2002 when I was just randomly searching cable channels on our television at home, when I encountered footage of a huge event being shown on the Indonesian television network RCTI.

Germany vs. Brazil. International Stadium, Yokohama. June 30, 2002.

It was the final match of the 2002 FIFA World Cup, the 17th edition of the most prestigious international football competition. I was very curious about how football matches were done, since I keep hearing from my classmates at school on how basketball matches were done. In the next ninety minutes of pure kicking, passing, running, and attempting to place the Adidas Fevernova “at the back of the net”, the world’s best goalkeeper at that time, Germany’s Oliver ”der Titan” Kahn, and the world’s best outfield player at that time, Brazil’s Ronaldo “Il Fenomeno” Nazario de Lima, faced each other, with the latter scoring two goals for his home country, which later received the fame of being the greatest national team in history for achieving the feat of “Pentacampeones” (five-time [World] Champions).

The time Ronaldo Fenomeno happily raised the FIFA World Cup Trophy made me fall in love with football.

The moment the camera panned onto the haunting German Titan crying in his goal post, despite the consolation his mates (and opponents) offered, made me fall in love with football.

The “DEUTSCHLAND!” and “Ole, Ole Ole, Ole!” chants at the stadium made me fall in love with football. With the grace, suspense, beauty, and unavoidable physicality I have just witnessed in front of our bulky Panasonic screen, I come to think and reflect how Filipinos despise football like they despise corrupt politicians. How come that some people can incite hate towards a sport born out of the same aims of friendship, teamwork, and love of physical skill, like basketball? What’s with football that Filipinos hate the most?

Allow me to enumerate some of the things I have overheard from my peers through the years about why they don’t like to associate themselves with football (which are actually some of the reasons why I have hidden my passion for the sport from my friends for over 12 years).

1. “Pangmayaman na laro ang football. Mga mayaman ang gumawa, kaya mga mayayaman lang din ang kayang maglaro.” (“Football is a sport of the elitists; made by the elitists, for the elitists.”)

When I started my football fandom back then in 2002, I made my conclusion that those living in the Ayala District in Makati, and Bonifacio Global City in Taguig, are the ones who are merry with the sport. They are the only ones who get to appreciate it due to their faster access to cable television, and the proper facilities to play. Makati has the University of Makati Football Grounds, and the Circuit Makati Blue Pitch (sponsored and donated by none other than Chelsea FC, the famous club from the English Premier League). BGC, on the other hand, has the McKinley Hill Stadium (known to football aficionados as the Emperador Stadium, after a local brand of hard liquor), and The Pitch, near Bonifacio High Street, where a string of football-related shops, like Bootcamp, and one of the largest Adidas stores in the Philippines, lurk around it.

Aside from the access to facilities, access to decent (not necessarily proper) football equipment is another problem (actually, the bigger problem). I have to admit that football-related clothing is a pain in the neck to buy. It wasn’t until I got a decent job when I started buying my share of football jerseys (specifically FC Bayern Munich and national team jerseys), so I am pretty guilty on this one as well.

Allow me to conduct a decent calculation of the things needed for a decent match.

Capture

And if you’re assigned as the goalkeeper, you need to shell out an additional php1500 for a good pair of goalkeeping gloves, totaling your expenses to a whopping php6000.

NOTE: these prices are based on bottom-tier sports brands (e.g. Patrick, Lotto, SELECT, uhlsport, Sells, etc.)

Different shirts for different teams. Different balls for different type of game. Different shoes for different playing areas and/or weather conditions. Different types of shin guards for different playing positions.

Some people may whine on how expensive and how “elitists” football can get, but how do Filipinos get by with the things they don’t have?

The answer: IMPROVISATION.

A loose-fitting t-shirt would do for the jersey (the only thing to argue about is what colors the two opposing teams should use to identify who belongs to what team). The “goalkeeper” can improvise with his father’s mechanic gloves to catch the ball. The ball itself can be an underinflated volleyball/basketball. Just look for even a small vacant lot, draw some lines (especially the goal line; draw this decently to prevent arguments on whether the ball is IN GOAL, or not), assign who’s on your team and what positions they will take, and you have your own “Tita’s Yard Cup”!

The only thing to spend a lot for is the shin guards, since FIFA has regulations on what shin guards to get, and buy. Improvising by bending planks of wood and inserting it in your socks will just do harm than good. After all, football officials are strict with the rule of “no shin guards, no play”. No one wants to leave the field walking on a limp due to a bad challenge of the ball.

With the proper sense of imagination, creativity, and innovation, football will no longer be an “elitist” sport. And coming to think of it lately, those from the provinces are the ones who are embracing football as their sport of choice, particularly the provinces of Negros, and Iloilo, the latter where the former captain of the Philippine national football team, Emelio “Chieffy” Caligdong, hails from. Caligdong, after retiring from the national team (fondly called as “Azkals” by local media), now sets up a football academy for the marginalized sector for free, in an objective to keep children preoccupied with sports, instead of vices and too much immersion to technology.

Now, does that still sound “elitist”?

2. “Ang boring panoorin ng laro. Ambagal maka-score ng mga players, puro pasahan ng bola, puro takbuhan. Minsan pa nga, natapos na yung oras, walang naka-score na team.” (“Football is boring to watch. It takes a lot of time for the players to score a goal, they tend to pass the ball a lot, and run through the field. Sometimes, the match ends scoreless on both sides.”)

This is one of the many things I have overheard about football which is based on senseless, discriminative judgment of the common Filipino. I remember a joke that my High School English teacher pulled about how much Filipinos love “instant” things; “instant” noodles, “instant” coffee, “instant” food (pertaining to fast food), “instant” fun (pertaining to technology/gadgets); in time, my teacher stressed out that these things will lead all of us to become “instantly” dead.

The love of the Filipinos for anything “instant” is also reflected in their preference of sports. They love “fast-paced” games, wherein they want to witness a breath-taking moment of victory every 15-30 seconds. But if you analyze it carefully, how do players tend to give the audience those impossible feats which leave all of us jaw-dropped?

The answer: By taking everything “SLOWLY BUT SURELY”.

Of course, any kind of sport would take a lot of time to strategize on the next move the players would need to achieve the goal the sport requires. Of course, players would not easily make miracles inside the field for the audience to be easily amazed. Too many spectacular moments in just one game will actually lead to a boring game, due to too many expectations. Even golf and tennis games (the true sports which are made, played, and supported by the elite) need strategizing, and a lot of them. The average golf player would always think of the different ways to get a hole-in-one; the budding tennis player would always think of how to outsmart the opposing player by hitting the ball in a spot where the opponent won’t be able to reach out.

This also applies to love: you do not rush things between you and your lover; a good plan/strategy will resort to fruitful rewards in the future.

Even so-called “mental sports” like chess need time (a lot of them) to strategize, and make breathtaking moves. But why don’t some people consider chess a “boring” game, like football? Again, they are based on senseless, discriminative judgment.

Now, name a sport, contact or mental, which does not require time to think of strategy while playing it. If you get to name one, I’ll hand you my football jersey collection, and I will quit being a fan of this “boring” sport. You decide what to do with those “pieces of polyester” if you win them. Wear them, sell them, give them to the less fortunate, or burn them (to further propagate your hate towards football).

3. “Walang mararating ang Pilipinas sa football. Umaasa lang tayo sa imports para makapaglaro at makapasok sa international competitions.” (The Philippines won’t see a good future in football. We all depend on “imports” in our national team games in international competitions.)

If the previous rant was based on senseless, discriminative judgment, this one is pure hypocrisy at its finest.

Filipino basketball fans cannot, and will not deny that some games played both in league, and national levels are also played by “imports” (foreign-based players paid by the league/national team to play for the respective cause). These imports, let’s face it, are the pivotal force on why the leagues, or even the Philippine national basketball team (fondly called as “Gilas Pilipinas” by the media) win competitions, and recognition locally, and internationally. Sure, let’s put the efforts of the local players, but then again, let’s face the fact that the people who are more properly oriented to basketball, the people who are given the more proper training for the game, the people who are gifted with the natural physical built to decently play basketball, are the ones who give glory to the sport.

So why should Filipinos depend on their own talent when it comes to football, albeit the help of foreign players, like the half-British, half-Filipino Younghusband brothers, who are given the highest credit for giving new vigor to Philippine football after years of being left out of place in the international, at least Asian, sports scene?

The answer: PHYSICAL ATTRIBUTES.

If basketball would require height to reach that highly-elevated ring to dunk that nylon-wound ball into, then football requires the part of your body which makes you mobile: your own feet.

Since football is all about movement of the feet, it is recommended by sports historians and experts that the Filipinos should delve more on football, since our bodies are “built to dance”. Look at Latin American countries like Brazil, Argentina (who are two-time FIFA World Champions), Colombia, and Mexico. They succeeded in their own respective football competitions because their style of play is all about quick movement in the field, which they owe to their love of dancing.

I’d like to put the highest emphasis to Brazil, which is widely known as the “Samba Capital of the World”. The greatest players in their national team, like Pele, Mane Garrincha, Rivaldo, Ronaldo Fenomeno, and Neymar, owe their football victories to their “Samba Football” style, in which opponents are quickly deceived on where the ball will go next due to their dancinglike motions in the field. These movements are executed so fast, that the opponent will require his brain not to make their eyes blink in order not to get defeated by the Brazilian they’re challenging.

Even the Spanish, the ones whom have conquered the Philippines for over 333 years, have embraced football as their sport due to their obsessive love of dancing. Every street in Madrid, one would see ladies and gentlemen bailar (Spanish verb for “dance”) themselves to joy, sadness, and in any other expression that the average, able-minded human can project. They have successfully integrated dancing with football, and created the so-called “Tiki-Taka” style of play. This is presented through fast, dizzying passes, and swift motions of the feet, in which one would shout “Tiki!” on the first pass, then shout “Taka!” on the second pass, then “Tiki!” again on the third, so on, until they score the goal they desire. This style will later deliver them three consecutive international victories during the 2008, and 2012 UEFA European Football Championships, and their first star in their jerseys as the 2010 FIFA World Champions.

Take note, football isn’t even the original game of the different nations I have mentioned. Yet it fits them, their culture, and their “perfect imperfections” (if quoting John Legend’s worldfamous ballad) like a glove. What more with Filipinos who loves not only to dance, but also work hard while using their feet?

4. “Trying hard ang mga Pilipino mag-football. Dapat, mag-stick na lang sa basketball, kasi ‘yan ang tunay na sport ng Pinoy, at yun na yung nakagawian natin.” (Filipinos tend to try hard playing football, while basketball is our “true sport”, since it’s the one which we’re all used to seeing and playing.”)

This rant is related to the previous one. With our physical stature (an average Filipino male stands at 5 feet 5 inches, and weighs 125 pounds), our bodies are considered, by experts, “built for football”. For people to say that we try so hard in playing football, they, again sound very hypocritical. And the people of our past will not like how their tongue is writhing inside their mouths (like a classic Filipino action movie line would suggest, “hindi gusto tabas ng dila mo, bata!”)

So how can Filipinos understand that we are totally built for football? The answer: UNDERSTANDING OUR HERITAGE, AND SPORTS HISTORY.

Let’s focus on a certain Filipino named Paulino Alcantara. Born to Spanish parents (who are superbly indoctrinated to football), Alcantara ate, slept, lived, and breathed football before “Chieffy” Caligdong, and the Younghusband brothers did. Even though the Spaniards were no longer influential to the country during the 1920s, Alcantara, this time, made his mark in Spain, for he was the first Filipino football player, and the first Filipino athlete to play for a foreign club. And that club? FC Barcelona: the same club that took care of legends such as Pedro “Pep” Guardiola, Diego “El Dios” Maradona, and Lionel “El Leon” Messi. Before Lionel Messi dominated the Spanish club’s historical records, believe it or not, Alcantara dominated them first! One of those records was that he is the highest-scoring player in history of “Barça” (as fans fondly call the club) before the humbled “dwarf from Argentina” took the record for himself. Due to his achievements, he was given his own nickname, “The Net Breaker”, and was given Spanish citizenship, thus giving him the chance to play for the Spanish football team. He retired from football in 1927 to practice dentistry, after serving both the Philippines, and La Furia Roja (“Red Fury”, as Spanish fans fondly call their team) as a player, AND manager.

Alcantara is living, historical proof that Filipinos are not “trying hard” when it comes to football. After “The Net Breaker”, many more Filipinos (pure, or with foreign ancestries) dominated the world stage. Names like Jonathan De Guzman (Netherlands), David Alaba (Austria), Stephan Schrock (Germany) and Neil Etheridge (England) are proud to recognize their Filipino lineage, but are playing for foreign teams. On the other hand, foreign players like Daisuke Sato (Japan), Misagh Bahadoran (Iran), Simon Greatwich (England), and Rob Gier (England) choose to play for the “Azkals”, despite the beautiful developments and offers that their ancestral national teams can give to them.

The facts I have stated may be unknown to the common Filipino, hence the biased judgment that they have against football. Playing sports, for the sake of friendship and common good, knows no height, weight, skin color, race, language, state of mind, and income.

Back to my students asking me questions about basketball, I took a deep breath, and showed them the eccentric English teacher that I was to them. I proudly replied to them, “Hindi ako nanonood ng basketball, kasi hindi ako lumaki sa environment na pilit. Mas prefer ko mag-football.” (I don’t watch basketball, because I didn’t grow up in a controlled environment. I, instead, prefer football.”

And unbelievably, instead of getting insulted and “bashed”, as teenagers of this generation would refer to the feeling of being pressed into hardcore criticism, they were actually interested about the conventions of football, how it works, and what makes it interesting. (syke, they are actually familiar with Messi, and Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo!) Instead of getting negative impressions inside and outside the classroom, I gained friendship from those students of mine. After then, they did not stop asking me about the latest news about football’s established household names (like Wayne Rooney, Luis Suarez, Andrea Pirlo, and the like), and rising stars (like Thomas Muller, Arda Turan, Anthony Martial, and the like).

This is another testament to my mantra that “being different is good for your system”. It definitely is.

I am a Filipino, and I am Football.

W.G.T. Catud is a Registered Professional English Teacher who currently teaches at St. Joseph’s Academy Las Piñas.

 

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